COLUMBUS, MISS. -- Wilbur Colom, at age 37, is a virtual catalogue of all the things black Mississippians aren't expected to be: wealthy, conservative, politically ambitious and impatient with the direction of the civil rights movement on which he cut his political teeth.

He sits in his magnificently restored antebellum mansion and explains why he is running, as the unopposed Republican nominee, for state treasurer, and why he expects that by next November he will be the first black in this century to be elected to statewide office in Mississippi. He's running, says this Mississippi native, for two reasons.

"First, I'm concerned about a really dangerous trend that's developing in the South and elsewhere: the trend that has blacks rapidly segregating themselves into the Democratic Party -- and out of power. It's dangerous to be in the position {as with the nomination of Robert Bork for the U.S. Supreme Court} of being able to articulate our disagreement only from the outside.

"The second reason is that I honestly don't believe that conservatives are the nemesis of black people. I think what has happened is that we have refused to move our thinking from the '60s. I've as much right to say that as anybody. I got arrested in Mississippi and New York. I worked with Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael. I worked with the National Welfare Rights Organization. I don't think anyone can have any more liberal credentials than I have. But what I see now is a black leadership that cannot move us to the next step: economic parity."

Colom, a founder of the Columbus law firm of Colom and Colom, "probably the only integrated law firm in the state," has done extraordinarily well for a poor kid from Ripley.

"It's true, I've done okay financially," he says, admitting the obvious. "I've built a thriving law practice, a new car dealership, a successful radio station. And I've done well in large part because white conservatives, if you give them a chance, will let you in on what they are doing. Black people need economic growth, and I find that conservatives are the people who really understand growth in America. I have also found to my surprise that they relate very well to black people who share their economic values."

Colom's affinity for conservatism -- he was a group captain on the Reagan transition team -- dismays many of the state's black traditionalists, who consider him some sort of renegade who cares only about making money.

"You get that from people who don't know me, people who let sentiment rule their business decisions. The people who know me understand what I'm doing -- even when they disagree politically. There's a black guy here who owns a real estate company who got started through me. There are probably five or six guys here who own construction companies. I represent them all. I represent every black elected official in the area, because they know I'll help them raise money and lead them to the technical expertise they need. On the issues that are important to them in terms of civil rights, I'm very much in line with them. I'm very much out of line with them in my view of where black people need to go in terms of economic parity."

The graduate of Howard University and the Antioch School of Law also takes an unorthodox position on what to do about the black underclass. "Instead of spending more of our limited {public} resources on making people more comfortable in their poverty -- more food stamps, that sort of thing -- we need to find ways to reward people who engage in appropriate conduct and let inappropriate conduct punish itself."

While a good many blacks might agree privately with that idea, few are bold enough to say so out loud. Colom's willingness to take unpopular positions -- he filed suit against a black teacher he charged with discriminating against the only white pupil in her class -- will cost him black votes this November. Indeed, his recipe for victory calls for 80 percent support among traditional Republican voters and only a third of the black vote.

"We need a new generation of leadership -- and I think I'm part of that, a lot of young black professionals are part of that -- to move into the political structure and move out some of those guys who are just talking about the old civil rights issues that really aren't that important today but are the only thing they are comfortable talking about, the only thing they know."

Why the treasurer's job? "I think you've got to win a lesser statewide office before you can run for the top job, the governorship. I really believe Mississippi is going to be the first state to elect a black governor. It might as well be Will Colom."